Lawmakers Establish 2009 Deadline for Analog TV Phaseout

By Arshad Mohammed
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

They've finally set a date -- Feb. 17, 2009.

That's the last day the over-the-air analog signals that have brought television programs into Americans' homes for decades will be broadcast, leaving only digital signals, under an agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators over the weekend.

That means that millions of people will either have to buy new digital TV sets or get their hands on a set-top converter box that allows the digital channels to be viewed over an old analog television. In addition, the negotiators agreed to spend up to $1.5 billion in federal funds to subsidize the set-top boxes for consumers.

Under the legislation, which was passed by the House yesterday and is expected to be approved by the Senate this week, consumers will be able to get up to two $40 coupons per household to help defray the cost of the set-top boxes.

The bill chiefly affects people who watch TV on sets that pick up analog signals through their antennas. Cable companies are expected to win permission from Congress to convert digital signals so they can be viewed over an analog set. Satellite TV customers already receive digital signals.

The legislation will allow the government to take back the radio spectrum used for analog TV broadcasts. The government then plans to auction some of the spectrum to bring in an estimated $10 billion over five years -- $7.4 billion of which would go toward reducing the budget deficit.

It also sets aside spectrum to help police, firefighters and other first responders to communicate during emergencies.

The legislation has been debated by lawmakers for months, with the most contentious issues being the cutoff date -- which could put politicians in the uncomfortable position of turning off voters' TV sets -- and the amount of the set-top box subsidy.

Some legislators argued that federal funds should not subsidize private television viewing. But majorities in both houses of Congress concluded that some money should be set aside to help.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company